It is Saturday morning, and I’m now facing a shift in my sense of reality. Less than 24 hours ago, my world was safe and calm, and my worst worry was how I was going to convince my husband to buy the new lounge suite that I want, or how was the next scene in my manuscript going to play out, or where does one find the money to pay for the writers conference that I want to go to in August.
No, instead, my worst worry has now joined that of many others around world.
Will today be the day that a terrorist takes my son, my daughter or my husband away from me?
On Friday 15th March, 2019, an unknown number of madmen marched into two separate mosques on opposite sides of Christchurch, New Zealand (my home city) and opened fire. They then proceeded to locations north and south of the central city, attempting to evade arrest while causing more acts of terrorism.
For the first time in history, the entire city of Christchurch, New Zealand was on lockdown. All schools, all malls, all businesses closed and locked their doors. Residents citywide were encouraged to stay inside. For nearly 4 hours, an entire city was held to ransom. And what makes it all bizarre… It happened in little, old New Zealand, one of the safest countries in the world.
Lives have been lost in this senseless madness. Families have been ripped apart by an act driven by hatred. Nothing can make up for that. New Zealand as a whole is now suffering.
Be warned, this is a LONG post, but I had to get it out, because so much is going on in this mind of mine.
Before I get too carried away with the thoughts running around in my head, I should mention that my family is safe. Nothing happened to them, but it was frighteningly close. I had no idea how close it actually was until we were actually all home and eating dinner at the dinner table, sharing our stories of the day.
A Day of Writing Turned to Chaos
Yesterday started like every other day. I got up in the morning, rolled my eyes as my daughter freaked out a little as she actually realized what time it was, rushing around the house to get out the door for school. One by one, my daughter, my husband and my son all left for the day, and I sat down at the computer and got to work. I’m a full-time writer and freelance editor, so I work from home. In some respects, this was a good thing yesterday, but in others…
Anyway, I was writing new scenes for my crime thriller novel, completely unaware of the crime thriller that was unraveling only 15-20 minutes away from my home.
Time for a little secret about myself. I don’t watch the news. I don’t listen to the news. I don’t watch TV. I don’t listen to the radio. I have a TV and radio, but our TV is not connected to actual TV signals. (This particular issue was problematic yesterday, but I’ll come back to that.) I have a radio in the car, but when driving around, I prefer listening to my podcasts or the music on my phone. The only time I actually listen to the radio itself is when my daughter is in the car and she makes me. But TV? Nope.
The reason for my no-news habits is because I find the news depressing. I like my ignorant bubble of bliss. Up until yesterday, I could happily live secure in the safety that I experience in New Zealand. Yeah, after yesterday…
So, there I was writing about death and mayhem, totally unaware that the real thing was happening not far away. Then I got a text from my daughter.
I’m in lockdown
So I will be late for my appointment and the police are here as well
Pls answer you really need to know what is going on
That was three separate txt messages back to back, and I was in the writing zone. I didn’t want to stop to deal with my daughter’s dramas. (People, she frequently sends txt after txt, insisting that I respond right away. She rarely give anyone a chance to even look at the first message before she gets pushy. With that history, hopefully, you can understand my attitude.)
Anyway, this is not the first time that her school had gone into lockdown. However, all the previous times were actually just drills, lasting no more than 15-20 minutes. I honestly thought it was just another drill. Granted, I did find it strange that they would have a lockdown so close to the end of the school day (she finishes at 2:30pm on a Friday), but hey, stranger things have happened.
I responded with something along the lines of “Even if I have to pick you up from school, you’ll make it to the podiatrist appointment on time. Don’t worry. Check back at 3pm. It should be all over by then.”
Yeah… I honestly had no idea what was unfolding within the city.
Then I got a phone call from my mother-in-law.
Oh, Judy… I just wanted to make sure that you’re all alright.
Um… Okay. As far as I know, we’re okay. Why?
I just saw it on the news about the shootings in Christchurch.
*blink blink* Okay, then. That would explain why she’s in lockdown.
The conversation didn’t last much longer than that, because from that point, the writing for the day was over and I was on find-out-what-the-hell-is-going-on mode. Of course, my brain hadn’t quite registered what my mother-in-law had actually said. My brain had totally missed the word shootings. I was just trying to find out what was happening by going to my daughter’s school’s website, or searching up terms with my daughter’s school in the results. How crazy is that?
I sent a message to my son, trying to see if I was going to be expecting him to walk in the door at 3pm like he always does, or if his school was in lockdown too. That’s when it hit me. The words and the conversations sunk in. This was real. It wasn’t a drill. This was a living nightmare.
I phoned my husband to find out what was happening with him. He was just wanting to get on with his work, and also had no idea what was unfolding on the streets around him. (I found out later that his introduction to the events happening within our city was a phone call from his sister asking if he was okay. Just goes to show how little news plays a role in the everyday lives and our day-to-day activities, if it’s family that have to highlight what is happening within our own city.)
The Scientist in Me Took Over
Shortly after 3pm was when everything just shifted into that surreal state and the scientist in me took over: facts, figures and analyzing the results.
Fact: Two mosques were attack.
Fact: At least four individuals have been arrested, one of whom might not have actually been involved in the acts of terrorism.
Fact: Two car booms were discovered.
Fact: Every single school within the city of Christchurch was put into lockdown for several hours.
Fact: Businesses and malls throughout the city were also put into lockdown.
Fact: One of the mosques is located with 5 minutes drive of my daughter’s school.
Result: My daughter was freaking out.
Analysis: I had to do whatever I could to keep her calm. Don’t get flustered with her because she’s txting up a storm. Just respond and constantly reassure her that everything is okay.
Fact: One gunman managed to make it to Papanui (5 minutes drive from my house). The gunman was apprehended at Papanui High School (my son’s high school).
Result: I’m freaking out. That’s my son’s freakin’ school!
Analysis: Stay calm, Judy. By the time you heard about any of this, the prick/asshole (and any other term you can think of for this guy) was already in handcuff. You have seen the photos. He’s not going anywhere near your baby. Your son is safe.
Fact: News was spreading through social media like wildfire.
Result: I was able to get the information I needed about friends and family, and the facts about what the hell was going on.
Analysis: As much as we all hate social media, it was social media that kept many of us sane.
Social Media and the Internet were a Blessing in Disguise
Yesterday, for three hours, I was bouncing from conversation to conversation, going from site to site. Three separate txt conversations on my phone (my daughter, son and husband). Multiple conversations in various threads on Facebook. Three separate conversations on Facebook Messenger. And another one on Twitter. Then I had a Hangouts video chat going with my writing partner in the US (as she’s hunting down information on the news sites about what is so special about the attacks), and we were listening to national radio. (I say we, because she was streaming the audio and feeding it through to me. Sure I could have done that myself, but this way we were both hearing it at the same time.)
During one of my conversations, I found out that on 1News, they were talking about what was happening at Papanui High. Remember from above that I don’t have a TV actually connected to TV signals. Well, this became problematic. I was desperate to find out what was happening at my son’s school, and I couldn’t find the live feed. Sure, I was able to find lots of articles that all said “LIVE”, but they only possessed a little snippet of prerecorded stuff. I wanted the flippin’ live feed.
I found it in the end.
For those in New Zealand, if you don’t have a TV actually connected to the TV signals like me, sign up for a TVNZ OnDemand account. They’re free. But more importantly, on the website version (and probably on the mobile apps too), you can access TV1, TV2 and TVNZ Duke live feeds. Because of it, I was able to stream the LIVE news feed on 1News directly to my computer. I had no idea that this was even possible until yesterday when I was desperately trying to gain access to the live feeds, knowing that my TV is not connected to them.
Because of my conversations on Facebook, I was able to get word about what was happening in other parts of the city, and quickly. The irony of that statement is not lost on me.
The day before, Facebook worldwide had gone down, many of us joking about the world coming to an end and “oh dear, what in the world would we do without Facebook.” Yet, here I was, for three solid hours, glued to my computer, trolling through Facebook, trying to get any information that I could (and succeeding). I wasn’t the only one to comment on that particular fact.
And the way in which things unfolded… I’m well aware that one of the BLEEEEEEEEPs that did this live-streamed the entire thing to Facebook. I’m well aware that the world at large discovered the truth of the situation as it was happening, because of social media. I’m also well aware that the same BLEEEEEEEEP had posted messages on Twitter about these attacks in the minutes, possibly hours, leading up to them. Those acts on social media is why so many people hate social media. Social media can so easily be used to spread hatred.
But yesterday, social media also became the lifeline for some many. My scientist brain was watching how fast news was spreading around the world about what has happening in Christchurch and I was fascinated. The information was accurate and accessible. The NZ Police was feeding information on Facebook and Twitter. The mayor’s office was doing the same. Schools were able to get information out via email and txt systems, and websites ran banners about the lockdown.
Support networks were quickly built, so those of us who were home alone when this all went down were not actually alone. We were able to quickly get the word to our family and friends that we’re okay, passing on what information that we could.
If I think back to all of ten years ago, none of support that came through so quickly would have been there. Technology and our way of life has changed that much. I wouldn’t have been able to get the live news through my computer. I wouldn’t have been able to let my overseas family and friends know that we were safe that quickly. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to know about my local friends and their experiences.
People Cope in Different Ways
As part of all of this, I actually sat at my computer, fascinated by all the bizarre comments that were coming through. I even laughed at myself and the way I was reacting to the stressful events. I don’t know if it was the scientist in me or the writer, but notes were made about the diverse nature of human psychology.
During the txt messages with my children, I quickly realized that my daughter was freaking out. So, I contacted my son and told him that he might want to send a funny txt to his sister. (At that time, I actually had no idea of the gunman running around his school, but we’ll ignore that little detail.) Anyway, shortly after that, I got a txt from my daughter saying that my son had just told her off for using her cellphone. OMG, seriously? I have my children at two different schools, stuck in lockdown, and they still find a way to fight with one another. And they still try to bring me into the middle to be the referee. It might sound heartless, but sibling squabbles via txt? I shall shake my head in shame now!
During the txt conversation with my daughter, there was a whole conversation about food.
Can you pls bring a egg sandwich with you when you come to pick me up
I wish that I went to the mall
Everyone there is getting free food
Of course, I had to know how she was getting this information. It turns out that one of her friends decided to ditch the last period of school and went to the mall instead.
Meanwhile, one of my friends who actually works in the mall posted on Facebook that she was stuck in Farmers. “But at least there are beds…” She went on to add that there was also Sky TV.
Another friend had posted on his Facebook that his family were stuck in lockdowns at the university and one of the local schools, but he was at home (with the doors locked). I saw that comment and had to actually look at my front door, smirking at my own reactions. We had gunmen running around the city, one apprehended only 5-minutes drive away from my house, and my front door was unlocked the entire time. And what was even more bizarre, even after I realized that the front door was unlocked, I honestly couldn’t be bothered getting up to actually lock it.
I look at my own reaction and laugh. What the hell was I even thinking?
5pm hit, and even more bizarre thoughts started to go through my mind. “Bloody hell. When everyone comes home, we’re going to need dinner, and I don’t want to make the pizza by myself. And takeaway won’t even be an option, because all the malls are in flippin’ lockdown. Everything will be shut.” I even posted something as such on Facebook, simply because I found the thought so funny given the situation. Friends posted back about having ice cream for dinner. Then the hilarity began as it became horribly clear that not only did we not have any ice cream in the house, but all the grocery stores would be closed too, because they too went into lockdown.
But in New Zealand? Really?
In all of the chaos and bizarre thoughts that went through my mind yesterday, there is one that will be going through everyone’s mind this morning.
How the hell could something like this happen in New Zealand?
There will be people out there who honestly won’t understand the magnitude of that statement. There will be those in the US who have gunmen rip entire communities apart, and they will ask that question: how could this happen? But in New Zealand, terrorism just isn’t something that we see.
Sure, we’ll have idiots who rob a bank or some other store with a gun and run. We have farmers who have killed their families, then killed themselves. We have murderers. But terrorists of this scale?
That’s what’s so difficult to fathom in all of this. That is why it took so long to even register that there was a possible issue. This is just not who we are. This is not what our home is like. This is not us.
It was so clear, so quickly that this was an act committed by neo-nazi extremists, trying to spark something against a small sector of our community. But whatever their goal of hatred, it’s backfired. All they have done has brought us closer together as a country.
This was not an attack on a small group of people. This was not an attack on my home city. This was an attack on New Zealand and EVERYTHING that we stand for. You made an enemy yesterday of an entire nation — of the entire world.
Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said it best in her statement to the press last night.
We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we’re a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we’re an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it. And those values … will not and can not be shaken by this attack.
We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. And amongst that diversity, we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now … is our compassion … and the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this.
You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2019